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Patron-Artist Relations In The Renaissance

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Patron-Artist Relations in the Renaissance

The subject of artist-patron relations has been a touchy one since the beginning of the phenomenon. Nowadays it does not take such great precedence, as the artist leans more toward a personal, individual type of art typical of freelance. Serious commissions exist only in public art and architecture, where the needs and feelings of a large group are considered. Artist and patron must work out a compromise as to what is acceptable and also respects the aims of the artist. The patron in this case generally has the last word, as demonstrated by Richard Serra's "Tilted Arc" controversy in the mid-80s where the artist's piece was actually removed from its site because of public objection. However, nowadays the artist is insured against such damages, which was not the case in the beginning of the Renaissance, when artists were just starting to make a name for themselves. At this time, artists still depended greatly on patronage for a living and fought to distinguish themselves from the guild system. They still succumbed to religious guidelines and subject matter which generally limited their exploration of more personal means of expression, but with the rise of secular art collectors such as the Medici, we see a more modern artist-patron relationship emerging. By so distinguishing themselves in their field, patrons gave them certain leeway in commissions. Patrons and artists worked together, the patron outlining material, size, and general subject matter, but leaving aesthetic decisions concerning composition up to the best judgment of the artist--- the master--- himself.

Although there is evidence of a lord-servant type of relationship between the patron and artist in several documents--- Domenico Venenziano writes to a lead Florentine patron, speaking of his "low condition" and how "duty-bound" he is to the patron ; Matteo de' Pasti writes to his patron about specific details concerning the subject matter of a work, referring to himself as the patron's "least servant" who wishes to obey his "master" ; Fra Filippo Lippi writes to Cosimo de' Medici that he is "here entirely to be a slave to you" --- one must remember that Italy was still working out final kinks in a new middle-class-minded capitalist system, and dredges of the medieval system of feudalism still influenced aristocratic patrons. The artist could be building up trust and good relations so that he may be referred to other commissions and thus make a name for himself: Venenziano was slyly using diplomacy in order to gain a coveted commission, says Gilbert; De' Pasti wanted to verify his content, not technical details, so as to have a successful commission and be paid well; Lippi was asking for money and proceeds to specify what for. In fact, we actually see the painter Cossa standing up for himself to his patron (who generally paid by the square foot) as a more learned artist with a name, and thus deserving of more pay.

It seems as though many patrons grew increasingly aware of artists' aesthetic mastery, and few documents exist where detailed instructions were given. A contract between Master Martino and his patron(s) is an exceptional case, where the artist was instructed to finish a vault mural in the same "workmanship, manner, and form" as "the other four vaults in the chapel" which were done by a previous artist. This served to preserve the continuity and consistency of the style of the murals. Another exceptional case involves the German patrons of Matteo Giovanni, who requested specific imagery according to their tradition and cultural tastes, expounding on specific proportions based on another altarpiece. However, they trusted him to use the "judgment" of any "good master" as to how compositional elements would be arranged and colored. The third exceptional case involves a very personal gift, that of a belt buckle commissioned by Marco Perenti for Filippo Strozzi, for which the symbolism was very complex and thus designed by Perenti himself. Gilbert suggests that this consistent lack of instruction in most commission contracts alludes to the fact that artists, having repeatedly painted similar religious subjects, were considered masters of the imagery. In a 1461 document that he mentions, the artist Benozzo Gozzoli was instructed to simply paint the specified saints "in their usual costume" or "with all their standard decorations."

In many cases, we actually see the artists themselves specifying such things as materials,

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